The Futility Monster

He'll pointlessly derive more enjoyment out of your resources than you

Why Don’t Businesses Recycle?

Posted by The Futility Monster on September 2, 2009 @ 06:30

Woo! A fancy image that'll really get you excited about recycling!

Woo! A fancy image that'll really get you excited about recycling!

As promised/threatened, today I’m going to briefly return to the environment because of a subject I’ve had a little personal experience with.

Businesses are not very good at recycling. Why should this be, I wonder? Business are, after all, made up of individuals, most of whom probably recycle at home. There isn’t anything magical about business which should make those very same individuals suddenly forget that we’re supposed to recycle, is there?

Well… maybe there is. Yes – it’s our old friend capitalism.

More workplaces recycle than ever. But for those who don’t, and for those who could still do a lot more than merely the token gesture of paper recycling bins placed in various locations around offices, there is actually one important reason behind it.

Businesses generally have to pay for their rubbish collection. Some of them use private companies, because they generate a lot more waste than the average household and they can deal with the much greater quantity. This cost usually gets them a large skip-style bin that everything gets thrown into, no matter what. One place I’ve seen lately, a van repair centre, chucks all the normal waste, like paper, in with all the things related to their work.

Of course, one thing they do recycle is scrap metal. Because that’s worth money. There is an incentive for the bosses to encourage their staff to work in a way that separates out the valuable wheat from the expensive chaff.

They once asked if they could get some extra recycling bins put in, one for paper, one for plastics, one for cardboard. They were told by their rubbish collector that this would cost them money.

So they didn’t bother, and have no intention to. They’re happy to just keep on paying, because the cost of not-recycling is far lower than the costs, both financial and in added inconvenience to staff, for recycling.

That’s why businesses don’t bother. Unlike individuals and families, where environmentalism can appeal to conscience and appeals to consider our impact on future generations, businesses are purely motivated by that bottom line. We may hear a lot about “corporate responsibility” and other such stuff, but it is an extremely rare business that takes all that seriously. It’s mostly just an exercise in PR.

This is why the pace of change is so glacial. Discrepancies like this crop up all over the system. Why are some councils better at recycling than others? For the exact same reason: the more they take, the more it costs in terms of processing, inconvenience and, of course, how much they need to raise from council tax. Some appear to be prepared to take on this burden, and the rising cost of the landfill tax is encouraging the rest to think again.

Recycling has been a way of life for many years now. And yet, the motives that we’re all gently being inculcated into by the government are seriously undermined once we arrive in work.

Joined up government? Merely a pipe dream I’m afraid.

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One Response to “Why Don’t Businesses Recycle?”

  1. I am surprised that the waste collector did not encourage targeted recycling by the business mentioned above. I have heard of waste collector who provide appropriate receptacles for targeted wastes – it was no doubt cheaper. Reminds me of a surveyor colleague buying a house off-plan. He inspected every weekend, ie as it was being built. He frequently instructed the builder to make changes – only to be told that it would cost more. In most instances he was able to demonstrate that the work would be cheaper and to a better design outcome. He enjoyed the changes without extra cost and the builder incorporated the changes in the other houses. He thus enjoying the reduced costs but did not (I suppose) reduce the prices of the other houses!

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